From ‘PILIPINZ CLOUDYGENOUS’ (2018-2019): a Poetry and Visual Art Installation by Eileen R. Tabios
You leave the land of your ancestors and your birth. In the 20th and 21st century, you need not retain that land simply through memory. Starting last century, you can access images of and from that land through the internet. But you don’t feel, when touching your computer screen, the dirt with which you once made mud with a beloved Apong, Grandmother, to create toys of tiny pots and plates. You don’t feel, when touching your computer screen, the sweet scent of Apong’s breath as she bends over your small fingers fumbling to shape a small plate. You don’t feel, when touching your computer screen, her gentle kiss on your brow as she places small pieces of a ripped leaf on your plate as ‘dinengdeng’ or Ilocano vegetable stew.
Virtual reality’s images bring you closer to your birthland. But a remove remains and persists.
As you continue to live your life, you become more tied to life in the internet. This is true with others on the planet, whether they are in the diaspora or not. But your virtual reality life is heightened by feelings of displacement as a result of migration. As you move from one physical place to another, from one city to another and even to a rural area, you never lose the feeling of being alien — such solidifies your ties to the internet where you feel more comfortable roaming.
But a remove remains and persists.
For my contribution to Counter-Desecration: A Glossary for Writing Within the Anthropocene edited by Linda Russo and Marthe Reed (Wesleyan University Press, 2018), I created a word: ‘cloudygenous’. As I state in Counter-Desecration:
I thought of cloudygenous for reflecting the contemporary integration of internet access into daily living, a practice more likely to deepen and expand in the future. Indigeneity historically is tied to the land. As human population continues to rise and becomes more dense in places, access to land may become less common, even as the internet’s reach expands. Those already born and likely to be born into such an environment are likely to create a new type of culture.
Cloudygenous describes the results of lifestyles and practices resulting from living in the internet so that internet becomes the ‘place’ generating its own indigenous peoples and/or practices. This could be positive, e.g. when the internet facilitates engagement with the universe beyond one’s physical borders. This could be negative, e.g. when the e-magination of the cloudygenous replaces physical reality and engagement with such reality. It’s not an adjective that’s inherently negative or positive; it’s more complicated, in the way a cloud can obscure but also generate life-supporting rain.
In the United States, Filipino-Americans have grappled with identity in a variety of ways. One way has been through language, including the birth of the terms ‘Filipinx’ and ‘Pilipinx’ to address issues of identity, gender, and colonialism. While I respect the thoughtful impetuses that resulted in such terms, I hesitate to apply the ‘x’ to myself as I’ve not suffered in ways that others — say, transgenders — have suffered to articulate a term for themselves. I, thus, came up with ‘Pilipinz’ as my own term for encompassing the variety of identities within ‘Filipino’.
My project ‘PILIPINZ CLOUDYGENOUS’ interrogates Filipino identity as affected by virtual reality. Part of my interrogation is a series of mobile sculptures. By hanging (from a ceiling), the mobiles float in space — a space that I consider a metaphor for (internet) cloud. The mobile which I present here intends to symbolize the Filipino diaspora. It hangs from a Star of David so as to reference humanity’s oldest diaspora:
The Jews of Iraq constituted the second largest Mizrahi community in 1948 with a population of 130,000, equivalent to that of Algeria and second only to Morocco’s 245,000. They are however, unequivocally the oldest diaspora community going back to the Babylonian captivity after the destruction of the Temple in 586 BCE. They can also claim to be the original Zionists, following the call of Ezra the Scribe to return to the land of their fathers in Judea. (From ‘The Iraqi Jews — The Oldest Diaspora, Now Safe in Israel‘ by Norman Berdichevsky, New English Review, February 2012.)
The Star of David is also incorporated in the mobile because in the Filipino diaspora (as with other diasporas), as well as in the internet, one becomes exposed to numerous cultures and elements.
Hanging from this mobile are wooden carvings from the Philippines manufactured for the tourist trade. ‘Balikbayans’ (the term for Filipinos returning to visit the Philippines) and other tourists often purchase such items for souvenirs. The mobile sculpture utilizes these figurines to leave them hanging in space to symbolize diasporic Filipinos. Not only are they hanging upside down but their connections to the mobile are unstable — i.e., they hang by clothespins which can easily be pinched open to let them loose and fall. The mobile structure manifests the instability and shifting nature of identity, especially in virtual reality where one can create one’s persona.
‘PILIPINZ CLOUDYGENOUS’ is still in-progress, but is planned to be a large installation whose mixed-media ranges over mobile and other types of sculptures, drawings, photographs, and collages. The featured mobile is the first of (at least) six anticipated mobile-sculptures. A description of the six mobiles presents, I believe, the effect of cloudygenous:
First mobile: to hang tourism-generated wood carvings
Second mobile: to hang photographs of the same objects hanging in first mobile
Third mobile: to hang variations or combinations of the objects hanging from the first and second mobiles
Fourth mobile: to hang elements from the natural world such as leaves; a cellophane bag of dirt, pebbles or stone; tree limbs; bird feathers; fruits and flowers…
Fifth mobile: to hang cotton balls masquerading as clouds
Sixth mobile: to hang nothing … but emptiness
When exhibited, I can envision the mobiles hanging in a gallery against a wall that’s been covered by cotton balls to evoke clouds. On the floor against the wall and beneath the mobiles would be a variety of computer devices whose screens all show clouds.
Other aspects of the installation would include photographs and drawings of images from the mobile sculptures. But aren’t photographs and drawings creating objects that continue to be further at a remove from the ‘originals’ of the mobile sculptures? The process and medium of and within the installation, therefore, also evokes the effect of the internet: its virtual reality may be real but contains an inherent displacement, a remove.
In interrogating the joint effects of the internet and diaspora, ‘PILIPINZ CLOUDYGENOUS’ asks questions, including how best to live in the diaspora. Answers, as with the internet and diaspora, are not fixed but provided by its viewers based on their differing subjectivities.
Eileen R. Tabios has released over fifty collections of poetry, fiction, essays, and experimental biographies from publishers in nine countries and cyberspace, most recently Witness to the Convex Mirror (Tinfish, 2019). Her books include a form-based ‘Selected Poems’ series, The In(ter)vention of the Hay(na)ku: Selected Tercets 1996-2019, THE GREAT AMERICAN NOVEL: Selected Visual Poetry (2001-2019), INVENT(ST)ORY: Selected Catalog Poems & New 1996-2015, and THE THORN ROSARY: Selected Prose Poems & New 1998-2010. She’s also released the first book-length haybun collection, 147 MILLION ORPHANS (MMXI-MML); a collected novels, SILK EGG; an experimental autobiography AGAINST MISANTHROPY; as well as two bilingual and one trilingual editions incorporating English, Spanish and Romanian. Her award-winning body of work includes invention of the hay(na)ku poetic form whose 15th year anniversary was celebrated in 2018 by the San Francisco Public Library, as well as a first poetry book, BEYOND LIFE SENTENCES (1998), which received the Philippines’ National Book Award for Poetry. Translated into nine languages, she also has edited, co-edited or conceptualized fifteen anthologies of poetry, fiction and essays, as well as exhibited visual art in the United States, Asia and Serbia. Her writing and editing works have received recognition through awards, grants and residencies. More information is available on Eileen’s website.